Big presence: Maryland ABA club adds 7-foot-9 player

CHEVY CHASE, Md. -- The "have size, will travel"
basketball odyssey that's taken 7-foot-9, 370-pound Sun Ming Ming
from China to California to Kansas to North Carolina made its
latest stop Wednesday in the back room of a Chinese restaurant in
this tony Washington, D.C., suburb.

That's where the Maryland Nighthawks of the American Basketball
Association introduced their newest player, a man they're touting
as the tallest in the history of professional basketball.

Sun donned a uniform with the number 79 -- Get it? -- and his new
team's owner and coach and a teammate all gushed about his
"basketball IQ" and "soft hands."

The 23-year-old -- who complained the XXXXXXL sweat shirt the
team gave him was too small -- was asked what his goals are.

"I hope," Sun said, "I make the NBA some day."

To which Nighthawks owner and ABA chief operating officer Tom
Doyle said: "I'm quite sure he will."

Really? After all, Sun hasn't played organized basketball in
more than six months, since a brief stint with the Dodge City
Legend of the United States Basketball League.

Turns out, the NBA doesn't overlook 7-footers.

"We will monitor his progress. His name has cropped up, but
since he's never really played, I don't know how he can be on our
radar," Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting, said in a
telephone interview. "We would be interested in a player of some
repute anywhere in the world, especially one who's 7-9. ... As
[former Utah Jazz coach] Frank Layden always said, 'You can't teach

Sun moved from his native China -- where he played on a
second-division team -- to California about 1½ years ago in hopes of
making it in pro hoops. His career was put on hold last year while
he had two operations for a pituitary tumor that led to his
extraordinary size but threatened his life.

Sun said those procedures were successful and he's getting into
shape. Doyle noted that his big addition needed extra training
after taking time away from the court to shoot a fight scene in
Jackie Chan's upcoming "Rush Hour 3."

"That was very fun," Sun said.

Nighthawks coach William Rankin expects Sun to be able to play
about 28-30 minutes a game; his debut comes Saturday. That will
also be Rankin's debut with the Nighthawks -- he was hired about a
week ago from a junior college team.

"When I interviewed for the job, I asked, 'Do we have a
7-footer?"' Rankin recounted. "And [Doyle] laughed and said, 'We
have someone who's almost an 8-footer."'

Sun has been in town about 1½ weeks, working out daily with
Nighthawks guard Randy Gill, who said of his new center: "Every
day, somebody's going to get dunked on."

Doyle is big on Bill Veeck-style marketing, and he's hoping to
organize an exhibition game with nearly-as-tall-as-Sun former NBA
players Gheorghe Muresan and Manute Bol to raise money toward Sun's
more than $100,000 in medical bills.

Did the Nighthawks want Sun more for his ability to play
basketball or to draw crowds (the team averages about 600
spectators in its 1,000-capacity Montgomery College gym in

"There's no question that having Ming here sells tickets,"
Doyle said. "But there also is no question that having him here is
a huge presence in our middle."